Racial Equality Pioneer Earns Presidential Medal of Freedom
With so much sour-grapes despoiling golf these days—ranging from Tiger’s angry reaction to a fake interview with Dan Jenkins, to Phil’s dissing of Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson, to the mess created by former PGA of America president Ted Bishop—it’s especially gratifying to hear former PGA Tour veteran Charlie Sifford last week received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The medal is the highest honor a civilian can receive.
Yes, a very big deal, given that Sifford was the first person of color to compete in PGA sanctioned events after the tour’s “Caucasian-only” clause was stricken in 1961. Sifford, the only sports figure of 18 people honored last Monday by President Barack Obama, joined the tour in 1961 and went on to win two official money events (1967 Greater Hartford Open Invitational and the 1969 Los Angeles Open, both after the age of 44) as well as the 1975 PGA Seniors’ Championship.
But it’s the head-shaking on-tour racial hardships that Sifford, 92, endured that underscores his lifelong courage and leadership in racial equality.
During the 1960s, spectators would kick his ball into the rough and bury his lies. He once arrived at the pin to find a cup filled with feces. Despite his successes, Augusta National never invited him to play in the Masters, once even going so far as to post a sign at the 1962 Canadian Open—which Sifford led after the first round—stating that it would not offer the winner an automatic invitation as it had in years past.
Also worth noting: Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame (2004, video below), was bestowed an honorary Doctor of Law Degree from the University of St. Andrews (2006), and received the 2007 Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, the GCSAA’s highest honor.
Sifford is the third golfer to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, following Arnold Palmer (2004) and Jack Nicklaus (2005). His recognition was spearheaded by various organizations and individuals including the PGA of America, PGA Tour, USGA, World Golf Foundation, 64 members of Congress, Tiger Woods, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Russell and Jim Brown.
Often referred to as the Jackie Robinson of golf, Sifford never had teammates to support him. He is indeed one person who President Obama says “made America stronger and wiser and more humane and more beautiful.”
Congratulations, Mr. Sifford. Well deserved.
Chris Duthie is a contributor to Colorado AvidGolfer, the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.com.